Buhari's ministerial list: Issues and Matters Arising!

August 3, 2019

52 days after he was sworn-in, President Muhammadu Buhari last week submitted the much-awaited ministerial nominees list to the Senate for consideration and confirmation. The team is made up of 43 names, 14 of them former ministers in his first term.

To get him to release the names was like pulling the chestnuts out of the fire. The Senate had met him earlier in the month on the matter; and later reminded him of the need to submit the list before July 26th or wait until its members returned from their annual vacation in September. During their engagement, the President revealed being under pressure. He justified his delay on the grounds that he did not want to repeat the mistake of his first term, when he picked mostly people the party and individuals recommended to him.

With his “Next Level” agenda, therefore, he pleaded for more time to enable him to recruit only those with the capacity to deliver. But this time he said, “I am going to be quite me; me in the sense that I will pick people I know personally.” However, most of the faces he unfurled are familiar; none of them came from the moon as to justify his purported thoroughness.

The task of choosing ministers is not rocket science. Buhari’s lumbering approach to governance rankles, viewed against the background of the speed of light with which global leaders respond to similar responsibilities.

For instance, the new United Kingdom Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who just took over from Theresa May, promptly picked his cabinet the same day. Ending his speech after he defeated Jeremy Hunt to emerge as leader of the Conservative Party, Johnson declared, “Today, the campaign is over and the work begins.” According to The Sun of London, he spent the next 24 hours locked away with aides gathering a “Cabinet for Modern Britain,” which will deliver Brexit and his domestic policies.

Not with Buhari. Here, a ministerial list that took five months to compile is thin on acclaimed technocrats or policy wonks. It comprises some allegedly recycled corrupt politicians, many of whom failed woefully in their previous public offices; further putting his commitment to uprooting corruption and uplifting the economy into question. The team, which the Senate began screening already, does not command public confidence.

The President, as usual, did not attach portfolios to the nominees. It is a discredited practice that makes a mockery of ministerial screening in the country, as it gives no room for ascertaining their competence or suitability. It is hypocritical that Buhari, with his preachment of “not business as usual,” still embraces this old order, which has short-changed the country in terms of service delivery. That the constitution does not prescribe attachment of portfolios does not mean it cannot be done. It does not breach any law. The Senate, which vowed to improve on the performance of the Eighth Senate, has failed its first litmus test, by accepting this and the banality of “bow and go” by 20 ministerial nominees.

However, many were not shocked by Buhari’s delay as it took him much longer in his first term to form his cabinet. But given his assurances, the quality of the team assembled should have compensated for time wasted. Unfortunately, it did not happen, again. The capacity for them to push the agenda for development for Nigeria is very much in doubt. Nigeria is seeing a President who is so widely unable to fulfil his responsibilities.

Consequently, the fear that the economy might not be free from its fetters in Buhari’s second term with his present recruits is not unfounded.